The Rodney Report: Rhetoric and Realities

  • Nice Financial Regulations You Got There …
  • ‘Lordy, I hope there are tapes’
  • Healthcare in the Senate
  • No spending on Cruel Immigration Policies
  • Frelinghuysen And LGBTQ Equality



Nice Financial Regulations You Got There, America.
Shame If Something Were To Happen To Them...

Last week House Republicans nearly unanimously approved the Financial Choice Act, yet another bill that focuses on rolling back Obama-era regulations. This time, the target is the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, legislation crafted in the wake of the catastrophic financial collapses of 2008. Dodd-Frank was designed specifically to protect consumers and prevent future economic meltdowns. By gutting its essential features, the Choice Act puts hard-working Americans’ financial security at risk.

The Great Recession bled nearly 260,000 jobs from New Jersey alone – a loss that was still not mitigated in 2014, by which time the rest of the country had already seen full job recovery.

Rep. Frelinghuysen’s newsletter offers five reasons he voted to approve the Choice Act. The Rodney Report will look beyond our representative’s rhetoric to examine the facts.

1. Frelinghuysen: Dodd-Frank needs reining in.

Frelinghuysen claims that Dodd-Frank was well-intended, but only succeeded in over-regulating Wall Street and hurting Main Street. Now, there is bipartisan agreement that small banks would benefit from targeted regulatory relief. But it isn’t necessary to blast Dodd-Frank apart to do this.

 The Choice Act would:

- Prohibit the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) from investigating predatory lending practices and from publishing complaint data on financial-services providers – leaving consumers in the dark as they navigate the process of obtaining loans.
- Revoke the Volcker Rule, which restricts banks from making risky investments that put customers -- and the economy -- in peril should the bankers lose their bets.
- Remove the federal process for safely liquidating banks in danger of failing – again leaving the economy vulnerable should we have a repeat of financial collapses in 2008 that led to the Great Recession.

2. Frelinghuysen: The Choice Act saves “Main Street”

Are small banks likely to benefit from reducing the cost and work of maintaining regulatory compliance associated with Dodd-Frank? Possibly. Will this legislation prevent the decline of community banks as small businesses opt for online lenders? Probably not. That’s really a result of technological advances, rather than regulation.

3. Frelinghuysen: The Choice Act cuts the deficit by $24 billion

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Financial Choice Act does estimate a budget reduction of $24 billion -- if nothing goes wrong. The estimate is contingent upon the stability of large financial institutions. The estimate doesn’t hold up should a large bank like Goldman Sachs collapse, and the Choice Act removes key safeguards against that.

4. Frelinghuysen: Repealing the fiduciary rule is a good thing

The fiduciary rule, created under the Obama administration, was scheduled to take effect April 10th of this year, was delayed until June 9th, and now doesn't go into full effect until Jan. 1, 2018, if it survives until then. This rule prevents financial advisors from offering biased advice -- such as steering a client toward the investment that delivers the bigger commission to the advisor, rather than the best return for the investor. Frelinghuysen supported the delay in promulgating the rule, and now supports its elimination. This is in stark contrast with public opinion – DOL's public-comment period saw 92% of respondents demanding passage of the Fiduciary Rule. Blocking the rule also poses a threat to the financial well-being of many constituents who are trying to make sound retirement plans.

5. Frelinghuysen: The Choice Act keeps a much-needed eye on the CFPB

You could put it that way. Or you could say that the Choice Act strips the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau of the independence and authority that make it effective. Currently free from political pressures, CFPB funding would now be subject to the partisan-majority appropriations process -- currently chaired by Frelinghuysen. In another break from current procedure, the CFPB director could be fired by the executive branch without cause.

Given the current President’s fondness for firing individuals, and Frelinghuysen’s disdain for this agency’s mission, the CFPB’s future looks dim should the Financial Choice Act become law.

6. Finally …

A notable voice among many raised in concern about the Choice Act is that of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Last week the VFW released statements praising the CFPB’s role in fighting predatory lending and debt-collection practices that have posed major problems with veterans’ credit reports, consumer loans and VA mortgages. The VFW urged Congress to continue “to ensure service members and veterans aren’t placed in financial harm’s way.” We hope Frelinghuysen and his colleagues are paying attention for the sake of veterans, and all the consumers at risk from watered-down financial protections.

‘Lordy, I hope there are tapes’

James Comey’s testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee was must-see TV. For almost three hours, Comey was folksy, compelling and credible. He stated that he kept notes on his encounters with the President because “I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.” Comey also was firm in his conviction that the Russians attempted to meddle in the U.S. election process and will do so again: “There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever.”

Comey said questions of obstruction of justice must be left to Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate. There were the expected counterattacks from Trump, who called Comey a ‘leaker’ and a ‘liar’ while while simultaneously claiming the testimony vindicates the President from any charges of wrongdoing. And there was intense interest as well in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who canceled his scheduled public testimony before the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees, saying members were planning to ask potentially probing questions on “issues related to the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.” He will be testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee instead.

Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process is something all citizens, and elected representatives, should be deeply concerned about. As Comey said, “It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. They’re coming after America, which I hope we all love equally.”

So far the only thought shared by Frelinghuysen on this unfolding crisis was in answer to a question in a tele-town hall right after the Comey firing. He called the former FBI director “an honorable man” who “ran an amazing department.”

Where are they now? Healthcare in the Senate

Last month in his May 5th e-newsletter, Frelinghuysen struggled to defend his crucial “yea” vote on the AHCA, the Republican healthcare bill, with a plea that others would improve the legislation. “While this legislation is not the perfect or the complete solution to our broken health care system, the AHCA is a step in the right direction,” he said of a bill that will remove an estimated 34,000 constituents -- primarily children, the elderly and people with disabilities -- from access to federally funded healthcare. “I feel that we must move a bill to the Senate where significant changes to improve this imperfect product will certainly occur,” he declared. “I am hopeful that we will have a better proposal when it comes back from the Senate.”

So far we have had to take this on faith: The Senate discussions have been held in secret by an all-white, all-male group of 13. But all of us may soon be able to judge whether Frelinghuysen’s confidence in the higher chamber’s improvement abilities is warranted. The substance of the Senate bill is rumored to be largely the same as the House’s, though there are discussions about stretching out the timeline for the transition. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) deems this adjustment irrelevant to the outcome, as it will still shift hundreds of billions of dollars of unaffordable costs to the states and would keep fewer than one percent of current Medicaid enrollees in the program.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked Rule XIV to fast-track the legislation by avoiding any committee hearings at all on a bill that “affects one sixth of our economy,” as Claire McCaskill (D-MO) noted. However, at least two obstacles remain before the bill would come to the Senate floor: a CBO score and a parliamentary ruling.

Unlike the House, the Senate is prohibited from voting on legislation until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has had time to score it. McConnell’s ultimate goal is to submit the bill for a final vote before September 30th, the deadline to pass it under Senate budget reconciliation rules which allow a hair-thin, 51-vote majority on budgetary items instead of the 60 required for any legislation that affects policy. August is recess for congress, and in order to be able to vote before the July 4th break, McConnell must submit a draft to the CBO soon, most likely this week. The CBO analysis on the House version of the bill revealed, among other atrocities, that 24 million Americans would lose their health coverage, more than 11 million in the first 2 years.

Also: The House scrutinized the language of their bill to make sure it would fall under the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation umbrella known as the “Byrd rule.” But a provision in the Senate version preventing women from using a new tax credit for private insurance that would cover abortions has been flagged. If the lone woman with power here, parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, decides this anti-choice language reflects a change in policy “extraneous” to the budget, the Senate must either wipe the provision (which might lose a crucial vote or two), or change the substance of the bill entirely to aim for a 60-vote majority apart from the reconciliation rule.

No Spending on Cruel Immigration Policies

Last week, the House Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on Trump’s plan for a $2.7 billion increase in border security and immigration enforcement, in addition to $1.2 million to expand detention facilities.

Since Trump took office, arrests of undocumented immigrants have increased 40 percent, including a 150 percent rise in “noncriminal arrests” for immigrants who committed no offense other than living in the U.S. without authorization, according to the ICE.

The aggressive crackdown has sparked an uptick in news reports of undocumented immigrants charged with nonviolent crimes, or no offense at all, other than being undocumented, being rounded up at courthouses — an arrest location discouraged under the Obama administration —and ICE check-in facilities. At these facilities, many law-abiding, undocumented immigrants have dutifully reported for years without being detained. Now, they are more likely to be arrested and put behind bars, according to the Associated Press.

Last week, an Ossining, NY teen whose mother had been detained was arrested at a relative’s house hours before his high-school prom.

With additional funding for Trump’s immigration policies, we can be sure that incidents like these will proliferate, resulting in the detention and deportation of millions of unauthorized immigrants who are a threat to no one, including long-time U.S. residents whose children are citizens. This is inhumane, and it neither makes our nation safer nor benefits Americans, as Trump promises. In fact, the opposite will most certainly be the case. Immigrants living in fear of deportation will be less likely to report crimes, endangering not only their own communities but others as well. And the economic benefits of immigrant labor and consumer purchasing will be gone.

We urge Frelinghuysen to resist Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric by using his power as head of the appropriations committee to block cruel anti-immigration policies that are a threat to public safety and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Frelinghuysen And LGBTQ Equality

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was back on the Hill this week, appearing before Frelinghuysen’s colleagues on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee. There were tough questions about civil rights protections, especially for LGBTQ students – and especially in cases where such students attend private schools using vouchers. As NPR noted, DeVos frequently fell back on a seemingly simple sentence: “Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law.” Yet she was vague when senators pressed her to explain what exactly that might mean for Trump’s Department of Education. How protected vulnerable students will be remains to be seen.

With Pride Month 2017 under way, it is a good time to survey Frelinghuysen’s voting stances over the years on LGBTQ rights—a complicated and sometimes curious mixed bag.

Defining and ‘protecting’ marriage: Frelinghuysen twice (in 2004 and 2006) voted against “marriage protection” amendments designed to enshrine in the Constitution a definition of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. (Neither of these measures attained the two-thirds majority needed to pass.)
BUT: In 2004, Frelinghuysen voted for legislation that would strip federal courts of jurisdiction over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This would have closed federal courts to plaintiffs challenging DOMA. The measure failed to pass the Senate.

Employment fairness: In 2007, Frelinghuysen voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by employers with more than 15 workers. Both in 2015 and 2016, Frelinghuysen voted in favor of amendments to appropriations bills designed to prevent discrimination by federal contractors and military construction projects.
BUT: Frelinghuysen voted twice against repealing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law banning open service by lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel.

HIV/AIDS funding: According to the Human Rights Campaign, Frelinghuysen has tended to vote against funding for HIV-prevention programs like needle exchanges.
BUT: In 2007 and 2009, Frelinghuysen did co-sponsor legislation expanding state Medicaid coverage for AIDS patients.

Given this rather ambivalent record, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that our representative hasn’t yet mentioned Pride Month in his social media feeds. We urge Frelinghuysen to become a stronger ally to LGBTQ constituents, or at least to better clarify where he stands.

-- By Lynn Halsey, Karen Rose, Naomi Rand, Elizabeth Juviler, Jane J. Hunsecker, Liz Jarit and Liz Lynch